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My name is Wayne Chamberlain and I'm a geek daddy who is into Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, books, movies, video games and talking to creative people about their work in these mediums. And that's what you'll find here, along with news, previews and reviews. I'm a journalist, an editor and co-host of the Star Wars Book Report podcast. So come on in and feel free to geek out in a fun, friendly environment.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Moneyball headlines group of new DVD releases

There’s a lot to like about Moneyball, whether you’re a baseball fan or not.
There’s Brad Pitt, first of all, which means that for all you guys out there, odds are you’ll actually be able to get a woman to give this baseball flick a chance.
But there’s also a good story and character piece that not only talks about the quantum shift in the game caused by Billy Beane’s adoption of metrics, but also his journey from high school prospect to major league washout and re-emergence as a young general manager willing to latch onto an idea in the hopes it will help turn his club into a winner despite massive financial restrictions.
Pitt plays Beane, the real-life Oakland Athletics GM and a former player who had a cup of coffee in the majors before retiring to become an executive. Pitt’s Beane is a man at a personal and professional crossroads.
The Oakland A’s are a small market team, with limited financial means, which typically means fielding a competitive club to compete with the big spending teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and New York Mets are all but impossible.
After watching the Yankees and Sox rob his club of top free agent talent, Beane begins looking for an advantage to help him compete on the field.
At the same time, he’s dealing with a divorce and trying to stay relevant in his daughter’s life – and, frankly, in her eyes. Having a dad who is known for being in charge of a bunch of losers isn’t going to do much for how he feels the world, but more importantly, his daughter, will perceive him.
Beane finds baseball salvation in the form of a nerd … a Yale-educated economist who is working for another ball club. Jonah Hill – pre-dramatic weight loss – is said nerd and his character takes the approach of looking at baseball players the same way you’d look at widgets if you were a manufacturing firm. It’s not about the sexiness or star quality of the players … it’s about their numbers and tendencies. You don’t need big money, big name players if you can get less expensive guys who are able to get on base and score because of their particular skill set. Known as sabermetrics, it has revolutionized the game. But it has also has its detractors because it takes some of the human element out of the game and the whole field of scouting.
Geek stats have become integral to the game because of what Beane was able to do. After losing Johnny Damon and Jason Giambi, Beane used metrics to replace their runs and hits with players others had overlooked.
He had to fight his own manager (Art Howe, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman in a great bit of understated, seething hatred laced with sarcasm) to do it, as well as the rest of the baseball world. But the proof was in the pudding, so to speak, and the A’s managed to compete with the Yankees despite having a payroll that was about a quarter of what the Bronx Bombers were spending.
Did he win? Well, you’ll have to watch the film to find out if you don’t know your baseball history. But the fact is Beane has forever changed the game. OPS, WHIP and other geek stats have now replaced batting averages and ERAs in terms of judging a player’s effectiveness and impact on a club. And all clubs use metrics as a means of evaluating talent.
But rather than focusing solely about baseball, the film has some heart to it and you pull for Beane whether you’re a fan or not. I saw this movie with a woman who knew absolutely nothing about the sport and she was taken with both the story and the ideas it presented because it turns metrics into a human story. And that’s why writers Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin – two of Hollywood’s best and brightest – and director Bennett Miller succeed in making this film go beyond the field and resonate with audiences.
Anyone with a child can understand Beane’s motivation to look like a winner in the eyes of his child. And anyone who has ever worked in a job in which they are fighting against ingrained thinking that limits potential can also identify with Beane’s need to change the playing field.
As well, watching Beane come to grips with how a baseball scout talked him out of going to school, planting promises of a stellar baseball career in his head, and then watching that dream die and the young man realizing that there is a fundamental flaw within his sport and how it treats the athletes … well, it’s a far richer story than just a straight up film about a baseball team and stats.
And for that, Pitt is getting strong Oscar buzz for his performance (although I don’t think he stands a chance of winning because it’s just not that dramatic of a role) and the movie has generated significant buzz for being more than just a sports film.
It’s definitely worth a watch and it has earned a spot in my top five favourite baseball films of all time.
Extras include deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and a profile of Beane and how he changed the game as an executive.
* * *
Also out recently on DVD:
* What’s Your Number: Truth be told, I’m not the biggest Anna Faris fan, largely because she typically stars in a bunch of spoof films that are ridiculous fluff made by people who seem to think they’re making something akin to The Naked Gun or Airplane but aren’t even in the same universe.
But I digress.
Faris stars as Ally, a young woman who reads a magazine article and discovers that she has slept with a large number of men in comparison to her friends. Determined that she will not have meaningless sex again, she is determined to only sleep with the man who will become the love of her life.
After she runs into a former boyfriend who turned his life around and is now getting married, Ally begins looking up her exes in the hopes that she has already slept with someone worthy of a second chance and a potential husband.
She is assisted by a hunky neighbour, played by Chris Evans, who is a guy who seems to sleep with a different woman every day of the week. He agrees to help her track down her exes if she’ll help get women out of his apartment in a hurry by pretending to be his girlfriend, thus preventing him from having to go through the whole messy post-sex breakup thing.
The two, of course, start to hit it off as friends and eventually it starts to blossom into something more.
Now, I like romantic comedies. And I’m willing to accept some pretty shoddy stories if the characters are interesting and the chemistry between the leads is compelling. For me, Evans proved to be a good choice and he could definitely do more rom-coms. But Faris really just didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t much care for her character and her dilemma – especially in this day and age of sexual politics. So, I just didn’t really take a rooting interest in her story, nor find her charming in any way.
And because of that, I just couldn’t much root for the duo to hook up.
If you’re a Faris fan, maybe you’ll have a different take. But this one is a time-killer at best.
* Glee: The Concert Movie: Yep, I’m a Gleek and so watching and hearing the talented cast, including
Cory Monteith, Dianna Agron and Lea Michele, perform songs from the hit show.
Extras include exclusive performances not seen in the theatrical release, extended performances, backstage footage of the cast and some Sue Sylvester introductions that haven’t been seen before.
* Penguins of Madagascar: Operation Blowhole: The kiddies will definitely get a kick out of the further adventures of the slightly crazed, paranoid penguins.
* G.I. Joe A Real American Hero: Series 2, Season 1
* The Scorpion King 3: Battle For Redemption: Victor Webster, Ron Perlman, Billy Zane and Kimbo Slice co-star in this really awful sequel.  Dwayne Johnson must surely be embarrassed to see what happened to the character he created in The Mummy sequel because this movie is so poorly written and terribly acted that the only positive reaction I had to it was when it ended.
* Jersey Shore: Season Four
* Colombiana : Zoe Saldana impresses as a butt-kicking assassin who is out to avenge the deaths of her parents. Michael Vartan and Jordi Molla co-star.
* Futurama: Volume 6

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